The streak of all my famous authors coming out with new books continues! I picked up Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert from the library on the Tuesday it came out. (All of these books have been coming out on Tuesdays; I did some googling and it seems like this is a thing, new releases coming out on Tuesdays, though I couldn’t identify the reason why.)
I finished Big Magic on October 5. I really enjoyed the format; Liz Gilbert divided the book into six sections, and each section is divided into several short pieces. It reminds me of the format of Eat Pray Love: 108 stories, divided into three sections. Some of the stories were longer; some were shorter. And they were all inextricably connected. I thought Eat Pray Love had a really good flow to it, and I think Big Magic does, too. Here are my takeaways!
- What happens to our work after we create is not our responsibility and is not within our power. If you want to create, you create. That doesn’t mean you’re going to achieve creative success. It doesn’t mean you’re going to make a living as an artist. As Gilbert says in Big Magic, “The patron goddess of creative success sometimes rewards charlatans and ignores the gifted.” Understanding that the reaction to your work is not under your control and is, frankly, none of your business is, Gilbert says, the only sane way to create. For me, I get caught up in what other people will say about what I’ve written. Gilbert has some wonderful words of wisdom for dealing with haters. (See below.)
- Sneak off and have an affair with your creative self. Gilbert playfully writes about dressing up in your best clothes and sneaking off to have an affair, pointing out that when someone’s having an affair, they never give the excuses like “I don’t have time” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.” They find stolen moments to devote to their affair against all reason and rhyme.
I try to remember that my writing wants the best of me. My writing wants me to bring my best self to the page. My writing wants me when I’m feeling witty and graceful and powerful. It also wants me when I’m feeling vulnerable and sensitive and weak, of course, but I like the idea of getting ready for writing as if I’m going on a hot date. Get excited! Put on your best sweatpants. Because this writing thing is going to be so much fun.
- If you can’t quit, you’ll have to keep going. Gilbert tells a story, relayed from a relative, about the writer Richard Ford.
Ford was conversing at a speaking engagement with an aspiring writer who was struggling to make his living with his craft. The writer asked Ford for advice, explaining that all anyone ever tells him is to do is persevere. Ford tells him to quit – because writing is killing him and is making him miserable. Ford then cheekily tells him that if he spends a few years away from writing and finds nothing else that inspires him the same way that writing does – well, then, he’ll have no choice but to persevere.
I sometimes fight off the negative self-talk themes of not good enough and it’s too late. If I was meant to find creative success via writing, shouldn’t I have found it already? I’m 32 years old.
Well, maybe I should have. Maybe I will someday. Or maybe I never will. But if I can’t find any other creative outlet that brings me the same joy and fulfillment that writing does – well, I’ll just have to keep on writing.
- Only when we are at our most playful can divinity get serious with us. I do a lot of play therapy at my job, so I have a bulletin board full of quotations about the importance of play in my office. “Play is serious work.” “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.” “Play turns out to be so stunningly essential to childhood that it’s like love, sunshine, and broccoli, all juiced together.” Gilbert argues that our creative energy and ideas come from divine sources, and that we can only open the channel to our divinity when we are being playful and not taking ourselves so damn seriously.
- Value authenticity over originality. I often have this argument with myself – why are you writing? All the most wonderful, unique, and original stories and books have already been written. But anyone who is writing straight from the heart and being truly authentic is adding something original to the world. (So, don’t try to be original. Just try to be you. You are original.)
- Write for you. You need to write for YOU – not for money or for popularity or for other people. Gilbert talks about writing Eat Pray Love for herself – it was a book she felt she needed to write. And it ended up helping a lot of people in the world who related to her personal and spiritual struggles. But – I really believe this is true – if you write something TRYING TO HELP OTHERS, it probably won’t help. It will probably come across as condescending or distant or preachy or inauthentic. However, if you write from the heart and honestly with honesty and you write what you need to write, you may find that your words accidentally end up helping others in strange and mysterious ways.
- Creativity doesn’t have to be sacred. If we try to make everything perfect, we end up never creating anything. Gilbert argues that our creative expression must be of the utmost importance (if we are to live artistically) and it must be completely unimportant (if we are to live sanely). “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Voltaire said. Just keep on going and get things done.